Relations between media and politicians deteriorated during 2003, with a spate of libel suits, as well as advertising boycotts, problems with obtaining information from the government and a physical attack on a journalist by the minister of the interior.
Albania’s defamation laws still do not conform to international standards. The offence is punishable by up to two years in prison and defaming a public body carries a sentence of up to a year in jail. No such penalties were imposed in 2003 but lawsuits against journalists by politicians continued to grow. Most were won by the politicians, with sometimes very large fines.
The broadcasting sector - heavily dependent on advertising, mostly from state bodies - is especially vulnerable to government pressure. Private business is reluctant to fund pro-opposition media for fear of surprise inspections by the tax authorities.
Access to public information is inadequate. Several journalists’ associations and human rights groups filed a complaint against prime minister Fatos Nano before the constitutional court in October for ordering government ministers and officials (in August 2002) not to speak to the media. But before the court could rule, Nano’s office lifted the ban on 18 November.
A journalist physically attacked
Ilir Babaramo, chief editor of the TV station Vision Plus, was physically attacked on 14 October 2003 by interior minister Luan Rama in a Tirana restaurant during a celebration of the Socialist Party’s election victory of two days earlier. He punched Babaramo because of criticism he had broadcast and the minister’s bodyguards roughed him up. The minister denied in a letter to prosecutor-general Theodori Sollaku the next day that he had hit the journalist. The Albanian Electronic Media Association deplored the incident on 16 October and demonstrations occurred calling for the resignation of Rama, who was sacked the next day.